Spring Reading: The Real Romney by Michael Kranish and Scott Helman

Few people have read The Real Romney by Michael Kranish and Scott Helman, which I found one day on the shelves of my local library. Kranish and Helman are Boston-based journalists who have covered Romney over his years in Massachusetts. They are not in Walter Isaacson’s league as biographers but they strike me as very solid and very fair.

The Romney story is becoming familiar as the presumptive Republican nominee for President introduces himself to the American public. Kranish and Helman go into the background of the Romney family’s early years in the Mountain west and Mexico and George Romney’s career with American Motors, campaign and service as governor of Michigan and his ill-fated presidential campaign. We learn of Mitt Romney’s privileged childhood and leadership in the Mormon church while a graduate student at Harvard and during his years at Bain Capital. Romney comes across as a bright, hard-working dedicated family man who has been successful at most everything he has tried.

The story gets more interesting with Mitt Romney’s election as governor of Massachusetts following his “rescue” of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic games and the rather ungraceful pushing aside of Acting Governor (and fellow Republican) Jane Swift.

As governor, Romney followed in the tradition of William Weld and Paul Cellucci, moderate Republicans combining relatively conservative economic positions with moderate positions on social issues. Romney positioned himself as a manager and problem solver who would break the logjams that characterized Massachusetts politics. As a part-time resident of Massachusetts at the time I remember one example very fondly. Every weekend in the summer and early fall thousands of vacationers’ automobiles from Boston to the north and Connecticut and New York to the west would converge at the Sagamore rotary approaching one of the two bridges to and from Cape Cod. The delays were interminable; I recall sitting in traffic for two to three hours, once with a baby kitten on an afternoon when the temperature approached 100 degrees.

Mitt Romney promised that if elected, he would replace the Sagamore Rotary by the end of his first term. And he did it. He probably won’t get my vote but he has my thanks.

Kranish and Helman report that about halfway through his term as governor, Romney and his leadership team concluded he would not seek a second term but would pursue national leadership opportunities. This prompted a major change in the governor’s public profile. Nearly every week Romney would announce a shift or clarification of his position on an issue of concern to the religious right: stem cell research, abortion rights, support for LGBT youth, etc. Yes, he would continue to press for (and achieve) health care reform in Massachusetts, but he made a tactical shift away from the “Massachusetts Moderate” profile that had been the secret of his political success to that point.

So who is the real Mitt Romney?

I don’t know, and neither do Kranish and Helman. We may – or may not – know more in the next six months.

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